Curious gazes, shy smiles and the distinct sound of bangles chiming against each other as hands joined in namastes to welcome the visitors: This was the sight that welcomed us to Jaipur Rugs. In a small muddy lane in the middle of a village, surrounded by children running around, dogs and goats peeping from bushes and small hutments, we saw women working on an enormous loom weaving each thread knot by knot. There we were standing in front of a woman draped in a pretty yellow cotton sari with a ghunghat up to her forehead. Her eyes gleamed with purpose and determination.
On a surprisingly rainy day in the end of August at Jaipur, the UnLtd India Incubation team along with 12 of the UnLtd India Fellows was headed to Maanpura village located at the outskirts of Jaipur to visit the weaver women who worked with Jaipur Rugs, an internationally renowned family business, known for its mastery in hand-made silk and woolen rugs created by the rural women artisans in India.We spent a day with Jaipur Rugs – at the village, at their branch office and then finally at their operations center where we had the honour of speaking to and interacting with founder Mr. NK Chaudhary.
Shantiben, draped regally in her yellow saree, welcomed us very warmly to the weaver’s site. In the course of the two hours that we spent there, we had a rare and eye-opening glimpse into Shantiben’s life and how Jaipur Rugs has moulded her life and empowered many women like her. Shantiben’s immense pride in her work was evident in her conversation and she exuded a natural and assured confidence as a leader. Descended from many generations of weavers, Shantiben knew her way around the loom. However, as is the case with many traditional arts passed down from generation to generation in India, circumstances prevented Shantiben from practicing her craft. Hemmed into the more traditional female roles of parenting and running a household, Shantiben had neither time nor thought to spare for the art her family had been handing down for generations.
She vividly recalls the day when Mr. Chaudhary and his team visited her home and immediately recognized her talent. The very next day Shantiben started working on a loom provided to her by JR. JR suggested that Shantiben be stationed at a loom near her house, allowing her to juggle her household duties along with her newfound employment.
As she started weaving, Harfool the branch manager from JR, frequently visited her. Taking note of her skills and flair, he quickly gave her the onus of managing an entire rug by herself. Now this not only meant that she had to spend time weaving the rug, but she was also entrusted with creating a team of women artisans who would work on rugs. Shantiben used her considerable social clout to share her work for JR with her community. She visited women in homes in her village and encouraged them to visit her loom site. Inspired, women from the community started working as a team and were trained by Shantiben. Representatives from JR also constantly touched base with these women to support their work
As the Jaipur Rugs business started growing in leaps and bounds, more women were inducted into the organization. JR revolutionized the entire process by coming up with a Rug map. Shantiben realized the value of the Rug map and understood that the entire rug design could now be seen in a glance. The Rug map ensured standardization, quality check and zero wastage. Shantiben was also encouraged by the organisation to spend time at the branch office to understand the different processes involved in the value chain of making rugs.
When we asked Harfool, the branch manager about Shantiben’s involvement in the value chain, he said that he was proud to have her be part of the process as she came up with numerous valuable suggestions. More importantly Shantiben has become a beacon of inspiration for weavers in the village. Today, with guidance from the management at JR, Shantiben even owns a loom of her own.
Harfool joined JR five years ago as a branch coordinator but his role evolved over the years and he is now the district head. Working with the head office technological team, he has been instrumental in creating and implementing the ERP (Enterprise Resource Planning) system that tracks huge amounts of data in the simplest way possible. It not only captures all the information on the different stages of the rug creation but it also maps the skills and capabilities of each weaver. This helps each team allocate work accordingly, especially on days when weavers are unavailable because of family commitments.
All the women who worked on weaving rugs were enthusiastic about the newfound changes in their lives. They had financial independence, some of them were now able to send their children to school, and some of the women themselves attended the literacy program run by the JR foundation. They women are able to see the end value of what they do each day. They feel respected as equal and valuable partners by the organization and the community around them. The first time the women ever visited the JR office was a landmark experience because they saw the final product of months of collaborative effort. The women understand that they are part of a unique and inclusive family.
JR has also launched the Weavers Design awards where the weavers designed a rug on their own. Though the Weaver Design Award is a recent endeavor, it is remarkable that JR recognized these women as artisans and not merely weavers. As social entrepreneurs themselves, our Fellows found it very difficult to say goodbye to these incredibly resilient and resourceful women. Their story inspired each of us to think more deeply about the communities we work with and how essential it is to ensure their participation and enthusiasm in any successful social enterprise.
On our return to Mumbai, the Incubation team at UnLtd India reflected upon the insights gained from our visit to Jaipur Rugs. Our own observations, coupled with insights from our Fellows culminated in “The Value Rug”. The Value Rug sets out the philosophy and context for Livelihoods enterprises; it highlights key ideas and practices that entrepreneurs must adopt as they work to create sustainable livelihoods that allow beneficiaries to lead lives of dignity.
As the founder of Jaipur Rugs N.K. Chaudhary says, “Sometimes you find beauty in most unexpected ways”. It was his passion for people, passion for art and the drive to do things differently that has made him an exceptional individual, a humble and nurturing person and an entrepreneur who is highly respected by all.
The values driven by N.K. Chaudhary’s vision and adopted on every level of the organization have propelled Jaipur Rugs to enormous success. The most crucial value is recognizing the beneficiary as an artist. N.K. Chaudhary’s passion for the front-line that led him to foster a culture of respect, passion, unlearning to learn and ownership all of which ultimately led to the empowerment of beneficiaries. Operational efficiency comes with high quality standards when practiced as a philosophy within the organization. Transparency and regular communication at all levels within the organization is a good practice to bring higher levels of ownership. The bottom-up approach where the beneficiaries are involved in planning the timeline for creating a rug is a great example of practicing the value of ownership. The measure of impact also lies in the fact that how the livelihoods intervention has resulted in changing their lives just beyond the income. The sheer awareness of the right utilization of the income earned and savings done can be attributed as a deeper impact. The interventions that also lead to beneficiaries’ literacy will have a huge impact in the lives of their children.
Visiting Jaipur Rugs was an incredible experience for our Fellows and we were thrilled to provide them with this opportunity. As we strive to enrich our incubation program for all current Fellows, we are also excited to scout for entrepreneurs for our newest class. Applications are open until the 31st of October. For more information, please visit our website.